Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Horse-Whispering Kind of Romance



I had a religious experience today.  It’s been two years since I decided to finally do something I’ve dreamed about for ages. Learning to ride a horse. I’d had a couple of Wild West experiences with spirited horses getting the bit between their teeth and running for their lives and for the hell of it, I’m sure, to see if they could dislodge this ridiculously inept and green creature on their backs.

One of them succeeded, god bless her stalwart soul. With the others I fought back. Or rather I clung on, resolving in the heat of the moment never to get on again. But somehow I couldn’t stick to my resolve, and over the years I’ve had a few riding lessons. I’ve never stuck at it, but still, I could never dislodge this dream I had of one day.

You know, having a relationship with a horse. So there I was, two years ago, suddenly saying just do it. So I did. I enrolled at a riding school for a term of lessons, and paid upfront. Lesson one was out of this world, more amazing than anything I’d dreamed of. Sometimes reality does that.

All I did was walk around a muddy patch, and then break into a rising trot. But the thing is, I got it. I got that you don’t ask the horse nicely please will you just do what I ask you to. It’s not about being nice. It’s not about being a control freak or megalomaniac either. It’s just about clear communication. My teacher had said to me that riding isn’t liking driving a car, where you put your foot down and the car just keeps going. With horses, she said, you’re telling them something every single second with your body movements, and they’re getting the message loud and clear. So get clear, she said. Be aware of what you’re doing.

It was quite difficult at first. What am I saying? It was ridiculously impossible. Hard enough to not fall off, let along keep my back straight, my hands relaxed and not too far forward, the reigns not to far anything, thighs tight, feet in the right position. And remember, you’re not just standing, you’re moving.

Oh, and one other thing. Relax. Riiight. As it happens, I had some glorious moments when I got enough of it right for the horse to be able to understand and we had a thing together that horse and I, for a minute or two. Wow. That’s when I understood why I’d lusted after the experience all my life. Must have sensed what it would be like somehow. It’s everything you imagine when you see it in the movies. I only had it for a few seconds at a time and it blew me away.

Fast forward to the next week. I was nervous for no reason I could understand. The last lesson had gone well, my teacher had told me I had a natural feel, the world was my oyster. Alas, my sense of be careful, something bad’s gonna happen was in good working order. My inexperienced teacher hoisted me onto the horse, and when adjusting my stirrups yanked my leg out at an unnatural angle. Ow! The stirrup wasn’t quite right and before I could stop her she did it again.

Tore something up inside. And that was the end of my riding lessons. Fast forward again, shall we, let’s leave out the grisly details. Two years later and I’m almost completely mended. The odd twinge if I sit at my laptop for too long for too many days in a row without doing any exercise.

Over the two years I’ve quite often gone down to a kind of common field in a horsey village where everybody who doesn’t have a big paddock lets their horses hang out. I was pretty scared of them at first, and they didn’t care much for me. Then one day I was feeling so unhappy and I went to hang out with them. Which is code for watch them and wish they’d come and talk to me. One of them came up to the fence and stuck around while I bawled my eyes out. We had a good heart to heart talk. He even nuzzled me now and then.

Since then I haven’t seen him again and none of the other horses ever came up to the fence to say hi or even bother me for food. Until today. I went down again. I’d watched Dream Horse the other night, and it had awoken all my passion. I was actually just going to go to the bank, but that field beckoned me and once I was out the house there was no stopping me.

When I got there, there were a dozen horses, most of them hanging out at the fence! The thing is, I don’t know what to do, really, around horses. Not yet, anyway. The best I could do was greet them and wish I was a horse whisperer. I wondered if they liked being sung to, so I tried that. They didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t get a standing ovation. After a while I stopped trying to draw them to me and just sang to myself and enjoyed their company. At some point one of them came up to the fence. He was quite forward and for some reason it didn’t scare me. He was nudging me all over the place, trying to eat my camera even.

I loved it. But the best, the best, was that after a while I put my forehead against his and stroked him and whispered to him. He stood so still and so did my heart. Every now and then he would move to flick off a fly, but he stayed with me. I stroked him and talked to him. Sometimes he would lift his head and look down his nose at me, then he’d stand still and put his head against mine. And I felt it again. That something between me and a horse.

Eventually somebody came to take him home. His name is Parabola.